On November 15, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman begins his expedition across Georgia by torching the industrial section of Atlanta and pulling away from his supply lines. For the next six weeks, Sherman’s army destroyed most of the state before capturing the Confederate seaport of Savannah, Georgia.
Sherman captured Atlanta in early September 1864 after a long summer campaign. He recognized his vulnerability in the city, however, as his supply lines stretched all the way from Nashville, Tennessee. Confederate raiders such as Nathan Bedford Forrest threatened to cut his lines, and Sherman had to commit thousands of troops to protect the railroads and rivers that carried provisions for his massive army. Sherman split his army, keeping 60,000 men and sending the rest back to Nashville with General George Thomas to deal with the remnants of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee, the force Sherman had defeated to take Atlanta.
After hearing that President Abraham Lincoln had won re-election on November 8, Sherman ordered 2,500 light wagons loaded with supplies. Doctors checked each soldier for illness or injuries, and those who were deemed unfit were sent to Nashville. Sherman wrote to his general in chief, Ulysses S. Grant, that if he could march through Georgia it would be “proof positive that the North can prevail.” He told Grant that he would not send couriers back, but to “trust the Richmond papers to keep you well advised.” Sherman loaded the surplus supplies on trains and shipped them back to Nashville. On November 15, the army began to move, burning the industrial section of Atlanta before leaving. One witness reported “immense and raging fires lighting up whole heavens… huge waves of fire roll up into the sky; presently the skeleton of great warehouses stand out in relief against sheets of roaring, blazing, furious flames.” Sherman’s famous destruction of Georgia had begun.